Seattle city leaders must bear some responsibility for Chai’s early death at the Oklahoma City Zoo. The Asian elephant should have been sent to a sanctuary instead of another confined space.
WOODLAND Park Zoo and Seattle city officials should feel a pang of guilt over the death of Chai, the 37-year-old Asian elephant that delighted generations of visitors before being shipped to the Oklahoma City Zoo.
Less than a year after that arduous cross-country road trip, staffers found Chai dead at her new home.
The Oklahoma City Zoo’s necropsy shows “no definitive cause of death or obvious signs of infectious disease.” Final lab results will take longer.
Woodland Park Zoo officials quietly transferred ownership of its elephants last fall. Those leaders must demand an independent animal autopsy, as the activist group Friends of Woodland Park Zoo Elephants did on Tuesday by filing a complaint with the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
Zoos are not humane environments for elephants to live long term, as reported in a 2012 Seattle Times investigation on elephant captivity. Confinement is bad for their health, especially their joints. A third elephant at the Woodland Park Zoo, Watoto, suffered from chronic arthritis. Once she fell in 2014, she could not get back up and was euthanized.
Since then, even the parent company of the for-profit Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey circus has announced its traveling elephants will be retired two years earlier than scheduled.
Zoos should be just as willing to adapt.
After Watoto’s death, Woodland Park Zoo officials refused to send Chai and Bamboo to a refuge where they might have had room to roam and zero expectations of performing.
Mayor Ed Murray and a majority of the former Seattle City Council expressed support for the sanctuary idea, but did nothing to intervene when the two elephants were sent off on a journey that was uncomfortable, costly and delayed by bad weather.
Chai’s early and sudden passing is the second in four months at the Oklahoma City Zoo. The median life expectancy for female Asian elephants is 47 years.
She deserved so much more after a lifetime of trauma. Separated from her mother as a baby, Chai lost her own 6-year-old calf Hansa in 2007 to a herpes virus. She also endured more than 100 unsuccessful artificial insemination attempts.
Seattle city officials and the leadership at the zoo, which receive taxpayer support, should join the growing call for the Oklahoma City Zoo to close its elephant display.
Let the surviving pachyderms, including 48-year-old Bamboo, retire in a setting where they can graze and be free of outdated, inhumane expectations.